Transportation Design Planning in the Netherlands
The cycling share in the Netherlands is a massive 29%, and this is evident by the planning efforts and motions put in place. A central component of the Dutch national policy for infrastructure planning is assuring connection between transport modes and maintaining of safety and culture, all while reducing congestion and environmental impacts (Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, 2013).
Looking at the actual design, the Dutch favor standalone paths; these are the ideal mode for cyclists, but they are generally restricted to parks, waterways, or areas with enough right of way to support them. The most common bicycle facility in the Netherlands is cycle tracks, which are separated from main traffic, but still follow the same path as the main roadway. Cycle tracks are enjoyable for users who only have to worry about interactions with vehicles at intersection; even then, the Dutch use signage, driveway conversion, and pocketing to help with this. Traffic calming has also become popular, especially in cities like Houten, where vehicular traffic is restricted to an outer rim of the downtown; this not only improves cyclist comfort and mobility, but acts as an incentive for increased cycling.
Bike integration with public transportation is also quite notable: quickly looking at the facts, there are 325,000 bike parking stations at train stations, 15,546 bike lockers, and 84,660 spots at full service bike stations in the Netherlands. There is a mutual relationship between the two – bicycles support getting to stations, and stations support long bike trips; for many, a daily commute consists of both transportation modes. In fact, 39% of Dutch rail users get to the station by bicycle (Harms & Kansen, 2018).
Dutch cycling is extremely inclusive; 56% of cyclists are women, and cyclists under the age of 17 have become a core group in infrastructure design. Education is key – this comes in the form of mandatory bicycle training programs for kids. Growth hasn’t stagnated either; the Dutch have seen an increase in cycling for work and leisure trips, as well as growth in urban areas. Additionally, there has been increased use in both under 30 and over 60 demographics. The Dutch believe cycling not only diversifies infrastructure, supports the environment, and saves money, but also actually improves people: their health, happiness, and mobility (Harms & Kansen, 2018).
Comparing the United States
The United States has a much different planning approach to cycling, and there is very little guidance in AASHTO and other design manuals about specific cycling infrastructure requirements. This has resulted in bike infrastructure becoming more of an afterthought in most design aspects, with exceptions in cities such as Davis, Portland, and Washington. Obviously, the diverse geographical and social climate of the US means that cycling is not advantageous everywhere, but there are some clear instances where necessary biking infrastructure must be improved.
Where the Dutch thrive with cycle tracks, standalone paths, and traffic calming, the United States prefers methods like bike lanes and sharrows. Bike lanes are effective in distinguishing a clear line between vehicles, however there are many fundamental issues, like right hook conflicts and car doors hitting cyclists. Another popular method is sharrows, which are very easy to add to an existing corridor without much change to vehicle capacity; the problem is the lack of control these arrows offer to cyclists, who are pushed far to the side of the centerline, and have limited ability to influence vehicular behaviors. Looking at public transportation, the US is far behind the Netherlands in bike facilities; only 38,280 spots in the whole United States (compared to the 325,000 in the Netherlands) (Harms & Kansen, 2018). In part, this is due to the large network of transportation facilities already in the Netherlands; most bike routes already connect to stations. The United States has to be more intentional about location, as most cycle paths are not near the stations to begin with.
Fundamental Difference and the Implications
The fundamental difference between cycling in the Netherlands versus the United States is the juxtaposition with road traffic; the Dutch see a “need for separation from fast, heavy traffic” while Americans support “a policy of integrating bikes with traffic” (Pucher & Buehler, 2012). This idea has become the critical juncture in policy planning in the two countries. The Dutch have very strict separation guidelines, based on their bicycle facility selection matrix; bicycling is only mixed with vehicles at low ADTs, and even then, low speed limits are required – full cycle tracks are always favored over simple bicycle lanes (CROW, 2017). Meanwhile, the United States suffers from a lack of criteria regarding bicycle infrastructure – no limit to traffic, speed, or number of lanes. Cycling in the US is regarded as a problem that cannot really be solved, with preference to the vehicular cycling theory as opposed to separated bike paths; the Netherlands proves against this theory.
Although behind compared to Europe, the United States has begun the process of better cycling integration. Adding bicycle holding facilities on buses and allowing bikes on rail support city bike use (despite the flaws during capacity). Additionally, car-free promotion programs have taken off; for example, the Atlanta Streets Alive events temporarily closes off main streets to allow for increased biking and pedestrian usage (Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, 2019). The problem of low cycling popularity in the US is quite a simple paradox: there are few bikers, so little infrastructure is needed; because there is little infrastructure, the cycling community will not expand. So, in the words of the great film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (2019). What is Atlanta Streets Alive? Retrieved from https://www.atlantastreetsalive.com/about
CROW (2017). Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Retrieved from https://gatech.instructure.com/courses/71248/files?
Harms, L. & Kansen, M. (2018). Cycling Facts 2018. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/documents/reports/2018/04/01/cycling-facts-2018
Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (2013). Summary National Policy Strategy for Infrastructure and Spatial Planning. Retrieved from https://www.government.nl/documents/publications/2013/07/24/summary-national-policy-strategy-for-infrastructure-and-spatial-planning
Pucher, J. & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.